2017 Court News Events

News From 2017

 Press Releases

If Your Life Has Been Touched by Guardianship, Please Let Us Hear from You

By Beth Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

Guardianship—a process in which a court appoints someone to exercise certain legal rights of a person who, because of some incapacity, has been judged unable to exercise those rights independently—is one of the few case types in the state that has shown growth over the last five years, and it is projected to continue growing rapidly.  To address this potential crisis situation, Florida’s judicial branch is involved in two significant efforts to improve the guardianship process. 

First is the supreme court’s Guardianship Workgroup; established in October 2016, this workgroup has been examining judicial procedures and best practices pertaining to guardianship to ensure that courts are best protecting the person, property, and rights of people who have been judged to be incapacitated and people who may have diminished capacity to function independently. 

And second, with a one-year grant and technical assistance from the American Bar Association and the National Center for State Courts, the supreme court has spearheaded an initiative called Florida WINGS (Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders), a court-community partnership designed to improve practices in adult guardianship. 

Your Input Matters

At this point, the Guardianship Workgroup and WINGS are looking to hear directly from Floridians whose lives have been touched by, or may be touched by, guardianship—among them, families, people under guardianship (either currently or formerly), guardians, private and government attorneys, state agencies, and judges and court personnel.  To get feedback from the broadest spectrum possible, we are taking a three-pronged approach:

  1. A  29-question survey instrument, which is now online and may be completed until December 30.
  2. Two public hearings: the first is in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, December 11, 2017, from 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm (at the Broward County Judicial Complex, West Building, Courtroom 15150); the second will be held in Central Florida in early 2018 (location to be determined). 
    Speakers are being asked to limit their comments to one of the following two questions:
    • If you could make one change in Florida’s guardianship system, what would it be?  Or 
    • How can the court improve its processes to better ensure the protection of the person, property, and rights of individuals who are under guardianship or who need assistance making decisions? 
      (Note: Financial support for the public hearings has been provided by the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of The Florida Bar.)
  3. An online comment form for people who are unable to attend either public hearing (the comment form gives respondees an opportunity to answer the same questions that public hearing attendees will be addressing). 

The survey, the comment form, and additional information about the public hearings are posted on the Florida WINGS webpage, at

Your feedback will play an important role in helping the Guardianship Workgroup and the WINGS initiative advance guardianship reforms and increase the effectiveness of Florida’s guardianship systems.

Persons with disabilities who need an accommodation to participate in the public hearings should contact Marquita Green, 850-922-5105 or, as far in advance as possible but preferably by December 4 for the December 11 event. Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech impairment and who use specialized telephone equipment may contact Marquita Green through the Florida Relay Service, 7-1-1. 

Visit the WINGS Website / Read the background article for more about the WINGS initiative / Read the most recent WINGS Summit update

(posted November 2017)  /  Return to top of page

Thanksgiving with Sixth Circuit TCA Gay Inskeep and Company

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

Thanksgiving for 400 Guests

Try to get your mind around the mental and physical gymnastics involved in planning, purchasing the ingredients for, cooking, and serving a homemade Thanksgiving dinner for nearly 400 guests! Since 2001, Sixth Circuit Trial Court Administrator Gay Inskeep and her husband Paul—with the help of a cadre of family members, friends, and Sixth Circuit co-workers—have done precisely that. Not only is the number of guests exceptional, but so are the people who are welcomed to this annual celebration: rather than offering hospitality to the usual Thanksgiving callers—extended family and friends—the Inskeeps invite homeless people, people with no family, and others in need.

Ms Inskeep contacts St. Petersburg homeless shelters, domestic violence centers, transition houses, and substance abuse groups to publicize the event, making sure that people who need a place to go know they have one.

What makes this feast even more special is the Inskeep philosophy that almost everything has to be made from scratch: their thinking is that they “always had a home-cooked meal, so everyone else should as well,” Ms Inskeep emphasized. To prepare a homemade meal for so many guests, they have to begin cooking the Sunday before the holiday, starting with the cornbread for the stuffing (Mr. Inskeep, “the primary cook,” believes that, in order to achieve the right taste and texture for the stuffing, the cornbread needs time to get stale).

Each year, about 400 diners are treated to a cornucopia of ritual favorites: turkey (25 large birds); mashed potatoes (100 pounds); sweet potatoes (90 pounds); green bean casserole (70 pounds); cornbread and regular stuffing; 40 dozen homemade “throwed rolls” (based on a recipe that Mr. Inskeep got from a Missouri restaurant, where rolls have traditionally been thrown to customers too impatient to wait for the busy owner to bring the rolls to their table); gravy; cranberry sauce; and apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies (60 altogether). (In case anyone is wondering, Mr. Inskeep does not often get to throw any rolls, unfortunately: he is usually too occupied with roasting and carving the turkeys, which are being devoured as quickly as he can carve them!)

"Free Market" for Guests in Need

In addition to serving this feast, the Inskeeps set up a “Free Market” (to rhyme with flea market) to give guests an opportunity to “shop” for items they need. Thanks to the donations of family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, the Inskeeps are able to supply people with many sorely-needed provisions—blankets, toiletries, scarves, gloves, slightly used clothing, and the like.The Free Market, a component of the feast for the last ten years, has been very popular, so they plan to keep doing it.

Several court staff and judges assist at the event, and “others donate (unsolicited!) money, food, or Free Market items,” Ms Inskeep noted. “This is a very generous circuit,” she said of her Sixth Circuit colleagues. She has to turn down some of their offers of help because she “already has all of the stations covered,” but she’s begun to put together a list of volunteers for next year.

Asked what enkindled her and her husband to take on this amazing enterprise, Ms Inskeep said they were inspired by an article about a St. Petersburg woman who provided a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal to anyone who had nowhere else to go. Because of its size and location (it’s on a bus route), they asked their church if they could use its kitchen and hall do something similar and enlisted their family to partner up with them. “We had wanted to do this for years, and finally, in 2001, we just decided, ‘It’s time.’ Over the years, neighbors and other friends and family joined in our efforts,” she added.

Family Tradition

The guests surely enjoy the fruits of this considerable, and tasty, endeavor. But so do the Inskeeps. “Participating in this event has enriched my family in many ways,” Ms Inskeep reflected: “It provides an opportunity for us to get together and focus on someone else’s needs rather than our own. All the typical stress associated with the holidays has been eliminated because everyone knows that Thanksgiving is not about us—there are no debates about who is bringing the green bean casserole and whose house we are going to. It also forces us to focus on how fortunate we are when we see so many who are lonely or who want for even the most basic necessities of life, like food.”

In addition to being an awesome opportunity to get together with loved ones, put the needs of others before their own, and reflect on their own good fortune, Ms Inskeep realizes that “It’s been an especially great lesson for our children. My son Andrew, who is almost 20 and whose birthday sometimes falls on Thanksgiving, doesn’t know any other way to celebrate Thanksgiving because we’ve been doing it this way for most of his life. We’re hoping our kids will follow this tradition in some way in their own lives.” She ended by saying that there have been so many “heartwarming stories and interesting things that have occurred at the dinners over the years” that she’s considering “writing a book some day!”

(posted November 2017)  /  Return to top of page

Update on WINGS: The Judicial Branch’s Statewide Guardianship Initiative

By Beth Schwartz, Court Publications Writer


Judge Lauten addresses the WINGS Stakeholder Meeting.

Judge Lauten addresses the WINGS Stakeholder Meeting.

Building a Court-Community Partnership

In July 2017, under the aegis of the judicial branch, 40 guardianship stakeholders from across Florida gathered in Tallahassee to share their unique perspectives on adult guardianship and to identify key issues that need to be addressed in situations in which a court has appointed someone to exercise certain legal rights of a person who, because of some incapacity, has been judged unable to exercise those rights independently. 

With a one-year grant and technical assistance from the American Bar Association and the National Center for State Court, this initiative, called Florida WINGS (Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders), is a court-community partnership designed to improve practices in adult guardianship.  Strictly planning-oriented at this point, Florida WINGS is developing a collaborative approach to improving the ability of state and local guardianship systems to develop protections less restrictive than guardianship; to advancing guardianship reforms; and to addressing abuse.  

WINGS Summit Meetings

At this first summit, WINGS stakeholders identified four areas on which they believe this initiative must focus: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation; Alternatives to Guardianship; Process Improvement and Standardization; and Education and Awareness.  At the second summit, in October—by happy coincidence, National Guardianship Month—stakeholders came together to lay the groundwork for developing a long-range plan for WINGS (participants worked on crafting vision and mission statements; they also discussed issues and efforts on which they can work collaboratively in the geographic region they represent).  Once crystallized, the long-range plan will denote specific goals and strategies for improving processes in and increasing the effectiveness of Florida’s guardianship systems.   

Strategic Planning Process

To inform this strategic planning process, broad-based feedback is being sought from people whose lives are touched, or may be touched, by guardianship: among them are judges and court personnel, state agencies, private and government attorneys, families, guardians, and other interested parties. 

WINGS is taking a two-pronged approach in this outreach endeavor: a survey instrument (which will be posted online at the end of November) and two public hearings (December 11, 2017, in Broward County and February 1, 2018, in Orange County).  The goal is to gather information about, and identify areas of need and concern regarding, the current state of guardianship, the public perception of guardianship, and other ways of providing decision-making assistance in Florida.  

Visit the WINGS Website /  Read the background article for more about the WINGS initiative

(posted November 2017)  /  Return to top of page

News from the Second Circuit: Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla counties 

Trauma Responsive Courts Workshop

Administrative Magistrate Amanda Wall and Kim Stephens, senior court operations consultant, coordinated and conducted the Second Circuit Trauma Responsive Courts Workshop on October 13th in conjunction with OSCA staff and Florida State University. The workshop included a presentation by OSCA’s Leigh Merritt and Carrie Toy on “Self-Care in the Face of Vicarious Trauma and Compassion Fatigue,” which was designed for professionals who work with children and adults who have experienced trauma. And Dr. Mimi Graham, director of FSU’s Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy, talked about adverse childhood experiences and how to identify and define trauma. During break-out sessions, the participants developed their own trauma responsive practices and shared their ideas with the group. The workshop is the first in a continuing series of events and workshops on trauma responsive courts in the Second Judicial Circuit.

Diversity Training

On October 3rd, Judge Augustus D. Aikens, Jr., Leon County, offered a diversity training session at the Leon County Courthouse Annex for Leon County volunteer mediators.  Attendees received one hour of continuing mediator education (CME) in the area of diversity (mediators are required to obtain 16 hours of CME credits every two years, with one credit hour focused on diversity). Judge Aikens presented the content through engaging dialogue, eye-grabbing presentations, and a fantastic video. Approximately 20 mediators from the circuit were in attendance.

Driver’s License Clinic

On Friday, October 13th, the Second Judicial Circuit had another successful Driver’s License Clinic. Presided over by Judge J. Layne Smith and Judge Stephen E. Everett, Leon County, this clinic was designed to help people whose license had been revoked, suspended, or canceled: participants learned what they needed to do to become eligible to legally drive again, and when possible, had their driving privileges restored through the on-site assistance of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Department of Revenue, and the Leon County Clerk of Court. Additional assistance was provided by the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, and the Leon County Office of Intervention and Detention Alternatives, Office of Resource Stewardship, Tax Collector, Supervisor of Elections, and Property Appraiser.

Altogether, 250 people pre-registered, and an additional 72 walk-ins received services.  During the course of the 5½-hour clinic, Judges Smith and Everett conducted 89 hearings, with additional hearings conducted by Civil Traffic Infraction Hearing Officer Meghan Daigle; 11 licenses were printed; the Leon County Office of Intervention and Detention Alternatives registered 45 people for community service; the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles helped 212 people, while their Bureau of Administrative Reviews helped 53 people and conducted four hearings; and the Department of Revenue helped 52 people (and modified nine child support agreements). The success of the Driver's License Clinic clearly relies on a vigorous team effort!

Go to the Second Circuit website / Follow the Second Judicial Circuit on Twitter 

(posted November 2017)  /  Return to top of page

 Court Leaders Attend Summit for Pre-trial Justice Reform

Leaders of Florida’s courts learned more about issues surrounding pre-trial justice reform at a summit of the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators from the southern states the week of October 23.

Chief Judge Mark Mahon

Pictured at the CCJ/COSCA Pretrial Justice Reform Summit in Lexington, Ky.k are, (l-r) are Chief Judge Mark Mahon from the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, Chief Judge Linda L. Nobles from the First Judicial Circuit, and Chief Judge Jack Tuter from the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit. 

In attendance from Florida were Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, First Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Linda Nobles from Escambia County, Fourth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Mark Mahon from Duval County, Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Judge Jack Tuter from Broward County, and State Courts Administrator PK Jameson.

Holding defendants in jail solely because of their inability to pay bail  is under scrutiny nationwide and in Florida as a matter of both justice and broader public policy.

Among the takeaways from the conference were a quantified look at validated risk assessment instruments for pre-trial release consideration. Attendees learned that, in Kentucky, 83 percent of bookings in 2016 were assessed as low or moderate risk for failure to appear in court. Last year, 34 percent of released defendants had a secured money bond with low-risk offenders more likely to be released than they were in a similar review in 2012.

The Conference of State Court Administrators advocates court leaders promote, collaborate toward, and accomplish the adoption of evidence-based assessment of risk in setting pretrial release conditions.

Chief Judge Tuter, is pursuing policies in Broward County relying on appropriate assessments to make sure defendants show up in court, but are neither unnecessarily incarcerated nor inappropriately released.

“If you are in jail more than a couple of days on a low bond, you are probably there because you can’t afford to post the bond. People shouldn’t be waiting in jail simply because they are poor,” Tuter was quoted earlier this year in a interview. “It’s a multi-faceted problem, but my goal is to get out those with ties to the community and some degree of assurance they’ll show up in court.”

Florida’s judges are learning about experience and best practices in other states to bring good public policy as well as improved justice to courtrooms around the state.

A policy paper from the Conference of state Court Administrators is a thorough presentation of the issues surrounding pre-trial release. 

(posted October 2017)  /  Return to top of page

A Glimpse into the History of Florida’s Supreme Court Buildings Through the Whitfield Window

By Beth Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

In early November 2012, the Florida Supreme Court became the new home of an evocative historic treasure: a curved-glass window that, until 1978, adorned Florida’s first Supreme Court Building.  Thanks to a generous donation from the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society, this elegant window, etched with the official supreme court seal, is now permanently exhibited in a handsome, custom-built mahogany display case in the Lawyer’s Lounge. 

While admiring this gift in the normally hushed composure of the Lawyer’s Lounge, one may find oneself fancifully journeying back in time to supreme court venues of bygone days.  For these fortunate time-travelers, the window is more than merely a lovely, framed and glazed aperture between interior and exterior worlds—indeed, it becomes a portal to the past, inspiring curiosity about the earlier settings in which the justices resolved disputes....


The state of Florida, previously a US territory, was admitted to the Union in 1845, and its first constitution created the supreme court—but did not give it any justices.  To carry out the function of justices, the legislature vested some judges in the circuit courts with the power to serve as supreme court justices.  At the time, Florida had four circuits, and four circuit judges were given the dual role.  Their job was particularly grueling because they were obligated to “ride circuit”—that is, they had to make frequent journeys across the state (by horse or carriage) to hear cases in various major cities.

Holding Court

Tallahassee has been the capital city since 1824 (three years after Florida was ceded to the US by Spain).  And when the justices were in session in Tallahassee, they convened in an area provided by the legislature, in a building now referred to as the Historic Capitol or the Old Capitol.  Their meeting space, the “supreme court room,” was a modest, rustic room lined with utilitarian bookshelves and flanked by two simple wood fireplaces.  Indeed, justices had to share an office until 1891, when a small area of the capitol lobby was partitioned to give each one some private space.  In 1902, when the building underwent significant reconstruction and expansion, the justices were given a larger space in which to hold session, as well as new offices.  A visit to the Old Capitol is a treat for anyone interested in seeing the supreme court’s early working quarters: in the late 1980s, after the new capitol was built, the old building was restored to its 1902 appearance; the reconstituted supreme court room includes many of its original furnishings, including the tables, railings, gates, portraits, and the justices bench.

Circuit court judges served as justices until 1851, when a constitutional amendment provided that the supreme court have its own justices: one chief justice and two associate justices (the number was increased to six in 1902, and the court was expanded to its current number, seven justices, in 1940).  Between 1852 and 1868, one term per year was held in each of the four circuits—in Tallahassee, Marianna, Jacksonville, and Tampa—so, naturally, justices were still travelling.  They remained itinerant until 1868, when a new constitution mandated that the justices meet exclusively “at the seat of government,” Tallahassee.  

Meanwhile, through all these years, when the justices were in Tallahassee, they were holding court in their room in the Capitol Building.  Finally, in 1912, a building was constructed expressly for the supreme court—on Monroe Street, a block south of the Old Capitol.  This was a momentous step because, from the first days of statehood, all of Florida’s state government had been housed together in the Capitol Building—so the judiciary became the first branch to have its own separate space.  The Supreme Court Building became the second state government building to be erected in Tallahassee.  This is also the building that was adorned with the stately, curved-glass window that is now resettled in the Lawyer’s Lounge.

The Whitfield Building

In addition to the supreme court, the new building housed the Florida Railroad Commission as well as the court’s library—an institution that garnered much praise in its day: “Agents for law book companies who have visited the supreme court library here in the magnificent state supreme court and railroad commission building are unanimous in the declaration that Florida has the best library of law in Southern states, surpassing many of the supreme court libraries of the Northern and Western states and comparing favorably with any in the United States,”  a journalist wrote in 1917 (see Walter W. Manley’s Supreme Court of Florida and Its Predecessor Courts, 1821 – 1917). 

The court remained in that building until 1949, when it moved to a new—and the current—Supreme Court Building, a few blocks away.  In 1952, the court’s prior abode was renamed the Whitfield Building, after Justice James B. Whitfield—the state’s 33rd justice, who ended up being the second-longest sitting justice in Florida history (he served on the court for 39 years; only Justice William Glenn Terrell served longer, with 41 years on the bench). 

Unfortunately, to make room for the construction of the Senate Office Building, the Whitfield Building was demolished in 1978.  Auspiciously, however, the curved-glass window etched with the supreme court seal was preserved.  Sold to a private collector before the building was razed, it lived in obscurity until 2002, when it was donated to the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society.  The largesse of the society made it possible for this window, this portal to the past, to return to its home, the highest court in Florida. 

Visiting the Florida Supreme Court

The supreme court is open Mondays through Fridays, 8 AM to 5 PM (excluding holidays).  Visitors to Tallahassee are welcome to drop by the supreme court to view the window—and the other historic gems safeguarded by the court’s library and archives.

(posted October 2017)  /  Return to top of page

Stay Connected - Important Court-related Irma Resources 

The latest comprehensive list of closures, cancellations and advisories about Florida’s courts is available at the Florida Supreme Court website and the Florida Courts site for court-related events.

Specific circuits, counties and courts have detailed information. See links to all trial courts websites and monitor social media accounts. Keep in mind some courts' websites are experiencing problems related to Irma.

Please make sure you're seeing the most recent update on our Facebook feed, and not just the most popular. We are updating regularly about courts closures and old versions are no longer correct.

Check the Florida Courts Facebook page to see all posts.

Please check these resources often as changing conditions and ongoing assessments mean frequent updates.

Court-related Irma Cancellations

Meetings, conferences, and events affected by Hurricane Irma

Updated Tuesday, September 19

  • Sept. 19 Diversity Educational Campaign Subcommittee conference call is canceled.
  • Sept. 22 Florida Commission of Access to Civil Justice Meeting in The Villages is canceled. Details on a rescheduled meeting are pending.  
  • Sept. 25 Standing Committee on Fairness conference call is canceled.  

September 14, 2017

State Courts Administrator PK Jameson

State Courts Administrator PK Jameson gives a video update on the Florida Court System after Hurricane Irma. 

Court staff recognized for saving taxpayer dollars

Florida Courts teams were recognized during the 2017 Prudential Productivity Awards luncheon, joining hundreds of other state employees responsible for programs and initiatives that saved millions of taxpayer dollars.

Three courts teams based in Tallahassee were among those recognized this week. State Courts System teams and individuals in Palm Beach County’s 15th Judicial Circuit and North Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit join the teams from the Office of the State Courts Administrator in Tallahassee among the 215 state employees from around the state to earn honors this year. Awards programs are scheduled later this month in locations throughout Florida.

It’s the 27th year of the awards program. Organizers note initiatives recognized by the program have produced more than $9 billion in added value or cost savings for taxpayers.

Honored at the Prudential Productivity Awards were:

Early Childhood Court Team

Early Childhood Court Team. 

Office of Court Improvement staff Sandra Neidert, John Couch, Leigh Merritt, David O’Kane, and George Roberts, along with Florida State University’s Mimi Graham, director of the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy for their work on Early Childhood Court.

Among a host of improvements, the work has significantly reduced the time in dependency court before children are reunified with parents, 

cases are closed and adoptions are finalized.

You can read in more detail on the  Early Childhood Court webpage

The Office of the State Courts Administrator employees Candace Causseaux, Susannah Davis, Patty Harris, Scott Higgins, Arlene Johnson, Maggie Lewis, Alan Neubauer, and Roosevelt Sawyer were part of the Shared Remote Interpreting Workgroup.

Remote Court Interpreting Team

Remote Court Interpreting Team.  

Shared use of remote interpreting services allows courts to greatly improve interpreter services through enhanced technological communications in a state where up to a quarter of its residents have limited English proficiency, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The pilot program has: 

  • Improved quality with circuits leveraging state certified staff interpreter resources
  • Reduced compromises required of circuit court staff in favor of access over quality, because of a lack in available qualified interpreters.  
  • Increased staff efficiency by eliminating time and effort locating qualified interpreters or pay expensive travel accommodations to bring a qualified interpreter in-person to the courtroom.
  • Reduced delays in court proceedings associated with interpreters having to walk or drive between courtroom locations, or wait between hearings in one location, will be reduced.
  • Led to overall improvement of accountability of tax-payer funded court resources.
Family Court Education Team

Family Court Education Team

Office of Court Improvement employees Avron Bernstein, Jennifer Grandal, Rose Patterson, Susan Proctor, Leslie Russell, Kathleen Tailer, Carrie Toy, and Andy Wentzell increased learning opportunities for family court judges while containing costs with distance-learning courses, Ask the Expert webinars, and online virtual court to train judges.

Examples include web-based publications for family court judges and court personnel, including the  Dependency Benchbook, the Delinquency BenchbookPDF Download, the  Child Support Benchbook, and  Domestic Violence Benchbook, and the Family Court Tool Kits.  The office also publishes a monthly electronic family court newsletter, emailed to more than 800 judges and court staff, about the latest innovations and initiatives.  

Read more about increased learning opportunities for Florida’s Family Court Judges

Congratulations to all who were recognized with Prudential Productivity awards. 

(posted June 2017)  /  Return to top of page /  Read the Full Court Press Article for Davis Productivity Awards

Prudential Productivity Awards recognize courts efforts

Florida courts personnel are again being recognized for their great work, serving the mission of the State Courts System and the people of Florida.

Winners of 2017 Prudential Productivity Awards will be honored in June.

Since 1989, the awards program has recognized and rewarded state employees and work units whose work significantly increases productivity and promotes innovation to improve the delivery of state services and save money for Florida taxpayers and businesses.

Innovative and cost-saving efforts were honored, including:

  • Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath, Judge Leonard Hanser, Michelle Spangenberg, Louis Tomeo, Adrienne Ellis, Daniel Eisenger, and Stewart Saalfield, of the 15th Judicial Circuit created a cost-containing diversionary program to assist adults and juveniles arrested for driving with a suspended license. The program aims to keep violators out of jail, help people get their driver license and frees up law enforcement resources for other purposes. -- Read more about suspended license program below --
  • Magistrate Judette Fanelli, Daniel Lieberman, Kathleen Clendining, Kathleen Alexis, Mary Quinlan, Renee Rattray, and Heather Burr-Shulman, from the 15th Judicial Circuit created a first-of-its-kind Therapeutic Court to help children achieve permanency and stability. The problem-solving court focuses on children in dependency proceedings because they have been abused, abandoned or neglected and gone through extensive trauma. A team approach gives more focused attention to cases that involve intense therapeutic monitoring. There have been 31 children included in Therapeutic Court and 10 have been adopted or places with a family member to provided permanency. -- Read more about the Therapeutic Court below --
  • Judge John Kastrenakes, Judge Laura Johnson, Judge Ted Booras, Clerk Sharon Bock, State Attorney Dave Aronberg, Public Defender Carey Haughwout, and Lt. Talal Masri, of Palm Beach County coordinated Operation Fresh Start to offer defendants with nonviolent misdemeanor and criminal traffic warrants an opportunity to resolve them without jail time. The program resulted in the recall of 379 bench warrants and the reinstatement or clearing of 160 driver licenses. More than $20,000 in fines and fees were collected and 96 payment plans were set up.  
    -- Read more about Operation Fresh Start below --
  • Tom Genung, trial court administrator in the 19th Judicial Circuit, and the Shared Remote Interpreting Workgroup improved access to qualified interpreter services. With the establishment of a statewide pool, interpreter resources are shared to leverage the use of existing qualified resources. -- Read more about the technology awards below --
  • Fred Buhl, court technology officer in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, led the Digital Court Reporting Initiative, Open Court, as well as Integrated Case Management Solution, Both began in Gainesville and the Eighth Circuit and have expanded throughout the state. OpenCourt is used in more than 200 courtrooms and hearing rooms while ICMS is installed in 23 counties. Both are cost-effective options reducing the need for outside vendors. -- Read more about the technology awards below --
  • The Office of Court Improvement increased learning opportunities for Florida’s family court judges while also reducing costs to taxpayers by offering a variety of cost-saving training and technical assistance methods: interactive, web-based publications; multidisciplinary, blended funding training events; distance learning courses; and, regional and local trainings. 
    -- Read more about the learning opportunities for judges below --
  • The Office of Court Improvement within the Office of State Courts Administrator, working with Florida State University, initiated an efficient and effective approach called Early Childhood Court that has resulted in substantial savings to taxpayers by educating judges on trauma, linking the courts with fast-tracked therapeutic services and gathering data documenting improved child and family outcomes in 17 jurisdictions across Florida.  -- Read more about the Early Childhood Court award below --

Read about the previous 2013 award winners and the 2014 award winners

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page /  Read the Full Court Press Article for Davis Productivity Awards

Florida Supreme Court reports success in court communications

Find your court using social media.

Florida Courts continue to move forward, building on the successes of the first year of the Court Communication Plan for the Judicial Branch of FloridaPDF Download.

"The plan is intended to help Florida courts reinforce the central message they all must consistently deliver: Courts are indispensable to our civil society, our economy and our democracy. This unified message is so vitally important because courts must have the trust of the public to function. And public trust in courts grows from public understanding of courts.”

As a news release from the Florida Supreme Court said about delivery of the Year One Implementation Report, “The goal is simple. It’s not enough that courts do justice. They also must make sure people see justice being done.”

Read the full 2016 Communication Plan ReportPDF Download

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page

Courts and justice partners provide a Fresh Start

A collaborative effort including Fifteenth Judicial Circuit judges and staff to effectively dispose of outstanding nonviolent cases earned a team in Palm Beach County a Prudential Productivity Award, announced in May. The innovative pilot program allows defendants to address fines, reinstate driving privileges and avoid jail.

Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath, in collaboration with Palm Beach County Clerk and
Comptroller Sharon Bock, Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, Public Defender Carey Haughwout, and State
Attorney Dave Aronberg, State Attorney, coordinated an event in April 2016 to assist individuals with outstanding nonviolent misdemeanor and criminal traffic warrants resolve their warrant without facing jail time.

During the event, individuals voluntarily appeared in court, established payment plans for fines and costs,
completed documentation and payments to have their driver licenses reinstated, and most importantly reached a resolution of their warrant without incarceration.

Operation Fresh Start resulted in the recall of 379 bench warrants; the reinstatement or clearing of 160 driver licenses; and the collection of more than $20,000 in fines and fees. Additionally, 96 payment plans were
established to enable monthly payments from litigants toward satisfying fines at a reasonable payment rate. The estimated total cost savings to the citizens of Florida as a result of Operation Fresh Start is $56,471.

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page /  Read the Full Court Press article

Early Childhood Court: Florida State University and OSCA’s Office of Court Improvement

By Beth Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

(award recipients are OCI staff Sandra Neidert, John Couch, Leigh Merritt, David O’Kane, and George Roberts, and FSU’s Dr. Mimi Graham, director of the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy)

Early Childhood Court grew out of a concern about a pattern that was becoming increasingly evident to judges on the family court bench.  Called the multigenerational transmission of trauma and maltreatment, this pattern unfolds as follows: children who are maltreated often end up suffering a host of developmental issues (e.g., cognitive problems, speech delays, health problems, motor delays, and mental health problems); if the underlying factors are not addressed, the effects worsen over time, and the child appearing in dependency court today is likely to end up in delinquency court years later—and, later still, in court again, facing, perhaps, a domestic violence injunction or a paternity matter. 

In 2013, the Florida State University Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy and the Office of Court Improvement formed a partnership to address this pattern.  Later that year, using a small portion of a grant to fund trauma informed systems, they established, and piloted in two jurisdictions, an Early Childhood Court: a specialized problem-solving docket that focuses on cases involving children ages zero to three who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected.  In each of these dockets, members of an Early Childhood Court Team—comprising judges, case workers, attorneys, infant mental health clinicians, and parent and community organizations—worked together to identify and expand evidence-based services for, and to prevent the further traumatization of, young children.  Their goals were to improve child safety and well-being; heal trauma and repair the parent-child relationship; expedite permanency; and stop the intergenerational cycle of abuse/neglect/violence.   

This initial seed funding deepened the cross-agency work, and, since then, the two pilot court teams have expanded to 18 Early Childhood Court Teams that have thus far served more than 300 young children and their families and have “resulted in substantial savings to taxpayers by educating judges on trauma, linking the courts with fast tracked therapeutic services and gathering data documenting improved child and family outcomes.”

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page /  Read the Full Court Press article

Florida Excellence in Technology Awards presented to courts employees, teams

People and teams working for Florida’s courts are being recognized for their smart work to deliver justice effectively.

Fred Buhl and Patty Harris

Pictured are Fred Buhl and Patty Harris, senior court operations consultant in Court Services for the Office of State Courts Administrator and member of the workgroup.

An initiative to improve service and contain costs will be recognized by the Agency for State Technology at the Florida Digital Government Summit when the Shared Remote Court Interpreting Workgroup, chaired by 19th Judicial Circuit Trial Court Administrator Tom Genung, is presented the Florida Excellence in Technology Award.

Faced with a shortage of available qualified court interpreters, the workgroup developed a solution to allow courts to use innovative technology to access court interpreters over the statewide network, providing litigants with limited ability to communicate in English access to qualified interpreters over a much broader geographical area. 

Shared use of remote interpreting services allows courts to greatly improve interpreter services through enhanced technological communications, while also wisely using state resources.

Fred Buhl, court technology officer for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, will be recognized for continually going above and beyond to provide invaluable benefits for the judicial branch and the people it serves.

Buhl manages and coordinates the digital court reporting initiative called OpenCourt as well as the Integrated Case Management Solution, or ICMS. Both begin in Gainesville and the Eighth Circuit and have expanded throughout the state.

OpenCourt is used in more than 200 courtrooms and hearing rooms while ICMS is installed in 23 counties.

Both of these technologies are essential elements of courts’ due-process functions and, further, are cost-effective options reducing the need for outside vendors. Buhl’s skills and foresight mean the people working in many Florida courts can do their jobs more effectively. He has done so with open-source technology that means startup costs are greatly reduced along with ongoing licensing expenses.

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page /  Read the Full Court Press article

Program saves money and improves outcomes for driving with a suspended license

Judges, court operations personnel, County Clerk staff, and attorneys in the State Attorney Office and Public Defenders Office in the 15th Judicial Circuit were recognized with a Prudential Productivity Award for an effective program to reduce the public and private costs of prosecuting driving with a suspended license violations.

In Palm Beach County there are on average 1,106 arrests annually for driving with a suspended license. After reviewing this data, Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath determined the need to create the DUS Committee (Driving under suspended license), to set up a protocol aimed at assisting these individuals, both juveniles and adults. A diversionary program was developed, designed to keep individuals out of jail, assist them with obtaining their driver licenses, and free up law enforcement resources.

The key to this specialized DUS program is it allows individuals to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with specific, defined requirements for regaining their Florida Driver’s License. Indigent defendants are required to perform community service in lieu of paying outstanding fines. Those in compliance with the agreement, who have has not committed new criminal law violations, and who have  obtained a valid driver license, the State Attorney will nolle prosse the case.

A study by Florida Taxwatch Center for Smart Justice titled: Expansion of Civil Citation Programs Statewide Would Save Taxpayers Tens of Millions of Dollars and Improve Public Safety estimated the range of $1,467 to $4,614 in savings for each civil citation issued. Using this methodology and the lowest range of potential savings, the cost savings as a result of this program and the 334 civil citations issues means an estimated total cost savings of $489,978.

Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath, Judge Leonard Hanser, Michelle Spangenberg, Louis Tomeo, Adrienne Ellis, Daniel Eisinger, and Stewart Saalfield, of the 15th Judicial Circuit were those named in the award. 

(posted May 2017)  /  Return to top of page /  Read the Full Court Press article

New Supreme Court Justice saw life through the eyes of a Honduran child

By Craig Waters, Florida Supreme Court Public Information Office
Alan Lawson and his wife Julie both grew up in families that believed in service to others, and so it was only natural for them to volunteer when they learned of a group doing health-related work in Central America called SMART – Surgical & Medical Assistance Relief Teams.That was how they came to the slums of Honduras in 1999 and met a beautiful 12-year-old child named Denia Osorto Corrales. She had an endless smile, full dark eyes, long black hair – and a damaged heart that soon could put her in the grave.

“We just couldn’t walk away from her without at least trying to help,” said Lawson, 55, who will be sworn as Florida’s 86th Supreme Court Justice Wednesday in Tallahassee. “We knew that God put her in out path for a reason.”

Lawson and Corrales families

Lawson and Corrales families


Lawson said he and his wife began their work with Denia on the spot, by securing her medical records. Immediately upon returning to Orlando they arranged to bring her to their home for open-heart surgery at the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital. And when complications arose, they arranged for her return for a second surgery and follow-up care. She lived with the Lawson family for almost a year.

When they returned Denia to Honduras, they travelled with a team of family members, church members and other friends who worked together to move the family – seven siblings, parents and grandparents – from a two-room structure in a remote area with no electricity or running water into a home purchased with help from Make-a-Wish Foundation, and others. The team, which included Lawson’s parents, in-laws and children, personally rehabilitated the home on that trip.

The Lawsons have continued to travel annually to Honduras to volunteer there and visit with “the family.” Friends who were on the second trip in 2000 have sponsored Denia’s older brother through medical school at the National University of Honduras. The Lawsons are sponsoring another brother who is studying civil engineering at Honduras’ Catholic University. The goal is to increase the entire family’s self-sufficiency.

“Julie and I found that our lives were so greatly enriched by the presence of the Corrales family,” said Lawson. “Seeing life through their eyes, and seeing their family tragedy turn into a story of hope and promise was the most joyful experience I can recall, other than the birth of our children. We have come to love their family as much as we love our own.”awson will take the oath of office at the Florida Supreme Court Building on Wednesday, April 5 at 3:00 p.m. At the ceremony, Gov. Rick Scott will present Lawson’s written credentials to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, signifying the point in time when Lawson formally moves into the judicial branch as the state’s newest Justice.

More than 70 judges from around the state have committed to attend the event and take part in a Judicial Processional – formally entering the courtroom in Tallahassee wearing their black robes after a public introduction by the Supreme Court marshal.

Wednesday’s ceremony is open to the public, although overflow crowds already are expected. The event will be streamed live by the Florida Channel and from the Court’s own Gavel to Gavel video portal located at:

Lawson is a native of Lakeland and grew up in Tallahassee. He and his wife later moved to the Orlando area, where Lawson served as a trial judge. More recently he was chief judge of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.

Lawson is the 86th Justice named to the Supreme Court since Florida achieved statehood in 1845.

Please follow this link to the original Supreme Court Press Release.

(posted April 2017)  /  Return to top of page

Human Trafficking: The Eleventh Circuit's Specialty Court

By Beth Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

The Facts

Often referred to as a form of modern-day slavery, human trafficking, which is criminalized under both federal and Florida law, is generally defined as the transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, or obtaining of another person for transport, for the purposes of forced labor, domestic servitude, or sexual exploitation, using force, fraud, and/or coercion (e.g., violence, threats, blackmail, false promises, deception, manipulation, debt bondage).  Human trafficking crosses all social, ethnic, racial, and gender lines: traffickers prey on people of all ages, educational levels, nationalities, and abilities, and victims include illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, and even US citizens.  Eighty percent of victims are women and children (US Department of State).  Although human trafficking is frequently seen in the sex trade industry, human trafficking victims are also seen in industries associated with agriculture, factories and sweatshops, construction, day labor, commercial cleaning, tourism and hospitality, domestic service, health and elder care, child care, salon services, and door-to-door sales, as well as in many other informal and largely unregulated labor sectors (Florida Statewide Council on Human Trafficking).  

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates that traffickers exploit 20.9 million victims across the globe, with an estimated 1.5 million victims in North America, the European Union, and other developed economies combined.  Even though people are growing increasingly cognizant of this crime, human trafficking continues to be underreported due to its covert nature, misconceptions about its definition, and an inability to recognize its signs.

Human Trafficking in Florida

Human trafficking is metastasizing in Florida.  Indeed, human trafficking experts declare that Florida is one of the most active states in the US for traffickers: according to the 2015 National Human Trafficking Resource Center Statistical Overview, in calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Florida ranked third, behind New York and Texas.  Law enforcement officials speculate that Florida has become a hub for human trafficking because it is a popular destination for transients, runaways, migrant workers, and tourists (labor trafficking is ubiquitous at restaurants, country clubs, and hotels, for example) as well as being a locus for organized crime.

Since 2004, a wide range of public and private entities, both statewide and local, have dedicated themselves to raising awareness about and supporting the victims of human trafficking in Florida.  Among the most prominent are the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, several statewide task forces and councils established by the legislature and the attorney general’s office, the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, and the Florida Medical Association.  Collectively, these entities have performed groundbreaking victim-based research assessments of human trafficking; developed a statewide strategic plan on human trafficking; assisted with drafting Florida’s anti-trafficking laws; developed human trafficking curricula and conducted trainings for law enforcement, child protective investigators, service providers, medical practitioners, and other groups that are well-positioned to identify and aid human trafficking victims; provided outreach to and services for victims; and crafted recommendations for more effectively combating trafficking crimes and caring for its victims.        

Florida’s courts have also been playing an active role: the courts see this as an important access to justice and administration of justice matter because courts are uniquely situated to convene and coordinate the stakeholder groups that have to address the issues related to human trafficking that surface in the judicial process.  For judges and court personnel, numerous human trafficking trainings, both in-person events and webinars, have been offered, and others are currently being planned.  In addition, OSCA produced and regularly updates a Human Trafficking OverviewPDF Download that details the relevant federal and Florida law regarding human trafficking cases, offers tips to help judges recognize these types of cases, outlines steps to follow if a human trafficking victim appears in court, and provides lists of useful information (e.g., remedies available for victims, the service needs of child victims, and resources for those seeking additional information). Go to OSCA's Human Trafficking web page.

The Eleventh Circuit’s Human Trafficking Specialty Court

Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia

Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia, associate administrative judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Juvenile Division, presides over the recently launched human trafficking court, called GRACE Court (Growth Renewed through Acceptance, Change and Empowerment Court).

Of particular note is the work of the Eleventh Circuit, which has taken a vigorously proactive stance regarding the youngest casualties of human trafficking.  Acknowledging that Miami, because of its geographic location, is “one of the leaders in this crime,” the circuit, through an administrative order issued by Chief Judge Bertila Soto In March 2015, established a Human Trafficking Court, designed “to serve young victims of human trafficking who entered the court system under a Chapter 39 Petition and/or a delinquency petition filed under Statute 985.”  According to the circuit’s Protocol for Human Trafficking Cases in the 11th Judicial Circuit Court, the mission of this specialty court, which officially launched earlier this year, is to “provide victims with comprehensive services and support in order to recover from the life they have been exposed to, have a successful transition to independence, and begin to lead a healthy life, physically, mentally and emotionally.”  The protocol adds, “It is hoped that the services and support will also reduce any further victimization or involvement in the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems.” 

Part of the juvenile dependency division of the Eleventh Circuit, this is the first specialized court in the nation devoted solely to human trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.  In addition, while some courts address human trafficking in dependency and some address it in delinquency, the Eleventh Circuit is the first court to address human trafficking both in dependency and delinquency in a unified setting: whenever a child is identified as a victim of human trafficking—whether it is in dependency, delinquency, or family—that case is transferred to Human Trafficking Court.  

Recognizing that there is a “stigma and shame associated with the term human trafficking,” the Eleventh Circuit resolved to call this docket GRACE Court—an acronym for Growth Renewed through Acceptance, Change and Empowerment.  The circuit hopes that, in addition to removing the taint associated with the term human trafficking, the name GRACE Court will “encourage these young people and their families to start seeing themselves in a position of strength and growth.”   

In developing GRACE Court, the Eleventh Circuit understood that, in order to identify the victims of human trafficking and to respond effectively to their needs, collaboration is essential.  Thus GRACE Court depends upon the use of multi-systems partnerships in order to reap the benefits of collective impact.  For instance, its steering committee—which provides oversight, offers guidance on key issues, recommends actions in matters requiring specialized knowledge, and addresses any problems or concerns regarding the operations, policy, and procedures of GRACE Court—includes representatives from the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Miami-Dade Office of the State Attorney, the Guardian ad Litem Program, the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, the Miami-Dade County Coordinated Victims Assistance Center, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Juvenile Justice Support Program, and several local, not-for-profit entities dedicated to creating a better life for children in crisis, as well as a survivor of human trafficking. 

Moreover, GRACE Court utilizes a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team staffing model.  The team includes all managers and service providers involved in a case, as well as members from most of the entities represented on the steering committee.  Meetings take place every other week, and team members—who are expected to be present at all meetings—gather to discuss and review what happened at the last court hearing and what has transpired since then.  Each member discusses the child’s progress and compliance with services, and the information shared at these meetings is addressed at the next court hearing.  To ensure that team members are mindful of the most current information and research as well as aware of the latest screening and assessment tools, they are required to undergo training in human trafficking and trauma-informed services. 

When a child is accepted into GRACE Court, the court evaluates his or her needs and ensures that all referrals are sent to the appropriate service providers.  The court also assists in ensuring that the victim is involved in his or her case plan and/or disposition report.  GRACE Court works diligently to create an environment that empowers victims to recommend the services and provisions they feel are necessary to recover from the trauma and victimization.  Among the services and provisions available are food and clothing, immediate safe housing, medical care, counseling, substance abuse treatment, education and vocational support, employment opportunities, mentoring, and intensive case management.  Collaboration is evident here as well, for GRACE Court has developed an extensive network of community-based partnerships to provide these services.

The circuit’s Protocol for Human Trafficking Cases emphasizes that collaboration—e.g., the multi-systems approach, multi-disciplinary team staffing, and community-based partnerships—are fundamental to the success of GRACE Court.  As it states, “Partners must work together and elicit helpful feedback and solutions regarding this court project. We must learn as a group that success may be measured differently for this population.  The way a community and a legal system react to a victim’s life can influence a victim’s level of engagement and trust.  A specialized court team can coordinate services in an effort to keep victims on the right path, increase self-sufficiency, provide victims with the opportunity for healing and hope, and prevent them from returning to the sex trade or any other life on the streets.”   

GRACE Court is presided over by Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia, who is also the associate administrative judge of the circuit’s juvenile division.  She explained that she first developed an interest in this area of law in 2011, after she attended a circuit judges conference at which the phenomenon of human trafficking was discussed.  Dismayed that human trafficking (or child slavery, as she sees it) happens with such frequency in this country, she began to research the matter and to find ways that the Eleventh Circuit could partner with community agencies to help these children.  GRACE Court is the result of her research and contemplations.

Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia emphasizes that, “Unbeknownst to most, human trafficking does not only occur in third world countries, but also in our own backyards.  When 12-year-old children are being held captive so their bodies can be sold, this community must respond.  It is my hope that GRACE Court will be the answer for the boys and girls and their families who come to our court system from such desperate straits.”

(posted April 2017)  /  Return to top of page



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